Sfax, Tunisia-A rubber dinghy brings back dozens of people from one of six boats the Tunisian coastguard intercepted in a 24-hour period off Sfax, a migrant launchpad for Europe.
“Our priority is to save lives,” said Mouhamed Borhen Chamtouri, a commander of Tunisia’s coastguard, as the dinghy headed towards the speedboat that had spotted the migrants on radar. Chamtouri, who is based in Sfax, was speaking after 24 hours spent intercepting and rescuing migrants who left the port city between Wednesday and Thursday.
This year, Sfax has emerged as a key hub for migrants hoping to cross the Mediterranean from the Tunisian coast, the closest point being less than 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa. The International Organization for Migration says over 1,800 people have died attempting the route so far this year, more than twice as many as last year -- making it the world’s deadliest migrant route.
The latest tragedy off Tunisia’s coast was a shipwreck last weekend that left at least 11 people dead and 44 missing. “There’s no doubt about it. You’ve seen in the past 24 hours that we’ve carried out several rescues,” Chamtouri told AFP correspondents accompanying his crew. “Three boats broke down and operations were not easy for us.”
The Tunisian coastguard says it intercepted 34,290 migrants in the six months to June 20, most from sub-Saharan African countries, compared with 9,217 over the same period in 2022.